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1. Thomas Sieverts, Cities Without Cities - An interpretation of the Zwischenstadt, London, Spon Press, 2003, p 72

2. United Nations Human Settlement Programme, The State of the World's Cities 2004/2005: Globalization and Urban Culture, London, Earthscan, 2004

3. Jean Gottmann, Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1961

4. Jean Gottmann, edited by Jean Gottmann and Robert Harper, Since Megalopolis: The Urban Writings of Jean Gottman, London, John Hopkins University Press, 1990

5. Price Waterhouse Coopers, Cities of the Future - Global Competition, Local Leadership, Connected Thinking, London, Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2005, posted on

6. Peter Hall, The World Cities, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966, p 200

7. GLA Economics, Our London, Our Future: Planning for London’s Growth II, London, Greater London Authority, 2005

8. Frederic J. Osborn and Arnold Whittick, The New Towns: The Answer to Megalopolis, London, Leonard Hill Books, 1969, first published 1963

9. Peter Hall, Ray Thomas, Harry Gracey and Roy Drewett, The Containment of Urban England, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1973

Volume 1: Urban and Metropolitan Growth Processes or Megalopolis Denied

Volume 2: The Planning System: Objectives, Operations, Impacts

10. Peter Hall, The Land Fetish, London, Town and Country Planning Association, 2005, available from

11. Mike Davis, Dead Cities, New York, New Press, 2002

12. John Collins and Philip Moren, Good Practice Guide: Negotiating the Planning Maze, London, RIBA Publishing, 2006

13. Martin Pawley, Home Ownership, London, The Architectural Press, 1978

14. Mike Davis, Planet of the Slums, London, Verso, 2006

15. Robert Neuwirth, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World, London, Routledge, 2005

16. Hamish McRae, 'By 2020, could the world's richest country be a little closer to home than China and Russia?', The Independent on Sunday, Business, 6 July 2008, p 4

17. Jonathon Porritt, Globalism and Regionalism, published as one of a boxed set of 5 essays from different authors themed as The Edge - Futures, London, Black Dog Publishing, 2008, p 27, available from

18. Peter Hall, Cities in Civilization: Culture, Innovation, and Urban Order, London, Phoenix Giant Paperback, 1998

19. Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic, The Endless City: The Urban Age Project by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank's Alfred Herrhausen Society, London, Phaidon, 2008, posted on

20. Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl: A compact History, London, University of Chicago Press, 2005

21. James Heartfield, Green Capitalism - Manufacturing scarcity in an age of abundance,, 2008, p 91, with details of how to buy posted here

22. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society: Volume 1 - The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, London, Blackwell, 1996

23. Alan Hudson, in email correspondence with Ian Abley

24. James Heartfield, The "Death of the Subject" Explained, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University Press, 2002, with details of how to buy posted here

25. Urban Task Force, Towards an Urban Renaissance - Final Report of the Urban Task Force, London, Spon Press, 1999, chaired by Lord Richard Rogers

26. Richard Rogers and Richard Burdett, 'Let's cram more into the city', New Statesman, 22 May 2000

27. Michael Fitzpatrick, review, The "Death of the Subject" Explained, posted here

28. Robert Park, Ernest Burgess, and Roderick McKenzie, The City, Chicago, University of Chicago, 1925

29. Robert Bruegmann, Sprawl: A compact History, London, University of Chicago Press, 2005, p 38

30. Urban Task Force, Towards an Urban Renaissance - Final Report of the Urban Task Force, London, Spon Press, 1999, chaired by Lord Richard Rogers, p 54

31. Patsy Healey, Urban Complexity and Spatial Strategies:Towards a relational planning for our times, London, Routledge, 2007, p 287

Manmade Modular Megastructures Homes 2016Why is construction so backward?Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age

Where are the citizens?

Most people live in a "city web" says Thomas Sieverts, though he objects to the car that such Cities Without Cities depend upon. (1) Most people live in the twentieth century suburbs that interconnect old metropolitan centres with new concentrations of employment. (2) This much was anticipated by Jean Gottmann when he first identified a "Megalopolis" on the North Eastern seaboard of the United States in 1961. (3) The insight that "cities" no longer needed to be nineteenth century style urban concentrations - a "Metropolis" - by the acknowledged master of Urban Geography. That truth became palpable over the second half of the twentieth century, although the use of the word "city" to mean a metropolitan "region" confusingly persists. (4)

When considering "cities of the future" it is commonplace for the world's city mayors and their attendant policymakers to be persistently confused about where political and economic constituencies begin and end. (5)

In the economically developed world a city mayor's wider constituents mostly live in suburbs and exurbs, outside of historic metropolitan authority areas, as Peter Hall observed in 1966, while recognising Gottmann. (6) That mismatch between political representation and economic dynamic is certainly the case for London. (7)

Home OwnershipThat situation is generally the case in Britain, despite the recognised attempt to deny megalopolitan growth since the 1946 New Towns legislation, (8) which was only made possible by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. That nationalised the development rights of freeholders in land. (9) In particular the development rights of Britain's farmers, state supported through the Second World War, and long subsidised since the 1948 Agricultural legislation that delayed the operation of the "planning system". Farmers remain unable to sell land for building to anyone. A lucrative professionalised effort misnamed as "planning" sustains a British "land fetish" today. (10)

The "planning system" is imagined virtuous by environmentalists, (11) is not about to be challenged by self-serving architects or surveyors, all dependent on developers, (12) and supports inflation in the existing housing market. (13) An inflationary trend that will return with a vengeance very soon. The British finance sector is not about to collapse.

In contrast, in the developing world those extended areas of development are far more tenuous and inadequate settlements, (14) where political representation in the "city web" is frustrated if not absent. (15) The city mayors in the developing world may not even want to be accountable to that potentially wider electorate. The development of the BRIC economies - Brazil, Russia, India and China - is fascinating, and a focus of political and economic speculation. (16) The BRICs expose the misanthropy of all "greens" who hate the population growth made possible by industrialisation. The undoubted master misanthrope being Jonathon Porritt, who argues for the interdisciplinary group of opinion forming British construction industry professionals The Edge:

'Progressive environmental, social justice and human rights organisations have pursuaded themselves that the increase in human numbers is of itself an irrelevance to their principal concerns.' (17)

Jonathon Porrit is the Programme Director of Forum for the Future, Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, and a patron of Population Matters, an environmental organisation advocating population reduction in the wider effort to minimise human impact on the environment. Population Matters used to be known as the more sinister sounding Optimum Population Trust. The patrons and supporters of Population Matters are despicable in wanting a World of fewer than 7 billion people, being vague on their population reduction methods.

However many architects and engineers defer to Porritt's "sustainable" anti-humanism. They retreat from the bustling industrial potential of the developed, the developing, and the yet to begin developing world. They advocate compact, "walkable", and evidently pre-industrial city forms.

In contrast to compact metropolitan cities the megalopolitan "city webs" are an uneven diffusion of industrial society, which Peter Hall still can’t fully accept, (18) and which Ricky Burdett actively denies. (19) However the city webs that Sieverts rightly admires are not to be explained away as inevitable “sprawl”, as Robert Bruegmann suggests. (20) Developed and developing cities are no longer compact, but complex and clumpy networks. Yet such industrial development is not inevitable.

Porrit's "optimised" population reduction ideas, politicising capitalism where it is in economic retreat from industry, are succeeding as environmental ideology. (21) The networked man-made environment needs active political promotion against Porrit, quite at home with a nostalgia for pre-industrial cities in the projected post-industrial city.

That is not to suggest that the networked built environments are the manifestation of the "network society" of "informationalism" that Manuel Castells imagined was replacing capitalism at the end of the twentieth century. (22) The city web is not caused by the ability to find homogenous communities and escape social difference through telecommunications. The web-like interconnection of man-made rural, suburban, and urban landscapes is the manifestation of twenty-first century industrial capitalism, either dynamic in Brazil, Russia, India and China, distorted in the Middle East, or dilapidated in Britain.

Yet everywhere these “cities without cities” are no longer evidence of a “polis” because, as the Director of the Leadership Programmes for China within International Programmes, Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, Alan Hudson appreciates, ‘… the mediation between city and population has not only gone missing, but isn’t missed.’ (23) The idea of the mega-city as a megalopolis can be too physical an understanding. The issue is not more (or less) city, but the absence of a demand for social change. While most people live in a “city web” they are no longer the classic “citizen”, liberated and alienated as employees, but with a sense of personal and collective political agency.

The human subjectivity has gone, and the “urb” is no longer politically distinct from the suburb. (23) Politics is not to be found in proximity, as the Urban Task Force imagined. (25) Urban compaction is pursued as a means to sustain the environment, and will not revive citizenship. (26)

What bothers me about the unexamined use of the word "city" is that it usually means the metropolis, not the megalopolitan dispersal, and that the "metropolitan city" is imagined to sustain a social dynamic. Like the unexamined notion that we have a "planning system" working for "the community", the idea that life in "the city" is politically more potent than living anywhere else on industrial transportion and communication networks is to compound the considerable and as yet still mounting burden of "sustainababble" and "communitwaddle".

Reviewing The "Death of the Subject" Explained, Michael Fitzpatrick appreciates Heartfield's argument; while subjectivity is in a precarious condition, reports of its death are exaggerated:

'Despite the wilful denial of its existence and importance, the subjective factor remains the most powerful force in society.' Clarification of '... the processes that are frustrating the emergence of a wider awareness of the potential of human subjectivity is the first step towards realising that potential.' (27)

At the start of the twenty-first century society is suffering from a degraded sense of autonomous subjectivity. The form of "the city" cannot possibly change that social predicament. It is the communitarians and ecologists who insist that human subjectivity is a problem. These "red" and "green" anti-humanists must be thwarted, and that can be done from no matter where we, or other people live. We simply need to find our "common ground" as political subjects.

That is surely encouraging, since we don't have to find a way to inhabit the regenerated urban cores of Britain's cities before meeting people who, like us, want to strengthen our sense of autonomous subjectivity. Live in the cleaned up post-industrial "urbs" if you want and can afford to, but there is no political advantage to be had in the economics of location, provided you are not isolated. There is no political advantage living anywhere in particular in a "city web", and there is no possible way for professionals to create citizens from the design of places.

Of course this will not satisfy professionals engaged in the business of "placemaking", by which they mean more than the building of urban spaces. While a "place" invariably tends to be an urban space, the designers of places flatter themselves that they are designing a "renaissance" through the compaction of the city. This crammed "city" is concentric in its crudest conceptualisation, which Bruegmann attributes to sociologists Robert Park and Ernest Burgess working at the University of Chicago in the mid-1920s. (28) As Bruegmann explains, by the end of the 1930s '... the outlines of the multinucleated city, with its adjacent suburban and exurban zones that we usually associate with the postwar era, were already clearly visible.' (29)

The Park-Burgess model was simplistic. The Urban Task Force argued simplistically that compact cities '... are organised in concentric bands of density, with higher densities around public transport nodes, and lower densities in less connected areas.' Burdett's UTF asserted that '... the effect of this compact layout is to establish a clear urban boundary, contain urban sprawl and reduce car use.' (30) While this allows for a multinucleated city, or a polycentric city, it is little more than a repetition of Park-Burgess models at public transport "nodes" or "hubs". These are the concentrations that interest the placemaking professionals, hoping to determine better social relations through the compact city, in which only the public transport networks are judged "sustainable".

The "city web" suggested by Sieverts overcomes the conceptual vulgarity of the concentric Park-Burgess metropolis, hardly modified when reconceptualised and qualified as UTF polycentricity. That acceptance of industrial and democratic complexity is attractive to those professionals who, in apparent opposition to the car-free-placemakers, focus on the dynamic of society - or the lack of it. So for Patsy Healey:

'The artistry of spatial strategy-making lies in combining a continually evolving strategic imagination about urban dynamics and potentialities, fed from multiple perspectives and positions, with a capacity for selective focusing on critical relations and choices where action now will make a difference.' (31)

In Urban Complexity and Spatial Strategies:Towards a relational planning for our times, Healey manages to argue for an indeterminism in planning development which aspires to be as manipulative of the anticipated inhabitants as the determinism of place imagined by Burdett in Towards an Urban Renaissance - Final Report of the Urban Task Force.

Whether of a deterministic or indeterministic pursuasion, professionals always seem to be going "towards" a future city, whether concentric or networked in conception, in which they have made a difference to the lives of the inhabitants of a "place" or "spatial strategy".

It is understandable that architects, engineers, and planners tend to want to "make a difference". Who wouldn't? Obviously professionals make artistic and technical differences everyday. They are professing artistic and technical expertise. They are in a position of social responsibility.

However design professionals only flatter themselves when imagining they can make a decisive social difference while the inhabitants of an expertly planned "city" are not acting as citizens - as history making political and economic subjects.

Where are these future citizens, willing to prove that the death of the subject is greatly exaggerated?

Most design professionals object that populations mostly live in car dependent Cities Without Cities, and want cities to be different. Usually city mayors and their policy advisers want a more compact city form to support public transport infrastructure. Some, like Porritt, want less of a public to transport.

What is less recognised as the political problem of our time is that everywhere there are cities without citizens, and that predicament will not be overcome by a different city form. The lack of a subjective citizenry is largely unrecognised as a predicament. While citizens cannot be made by city planning, or city "visioneering", an explanation of the absence of a sense of citizenship is something that city experts could do much more to provide.

If only planners and architects were not suffering from their own, and painful to observe "Death of the Subject".

Ian Abley 09.07.2008, updated 21.11.11

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